Kin

Jane Marie hadn’t slept since her eleventh birthday, but neither Mama or Aunt Becky knew it. They liked a drink, the two of them, and they liked a game of cards. If she waited til midnight and then sneaked down the hall, Jane could listen to the two of them talk. It made her feel better, the way that they had. Made her feel safe.

But tonight they were different. You could tell they hadn’t touched the whiskey, and their voices were hard. Jane almost went back to her room, and maybe she would have done if she hadn’t heard Mama say who she killed.

“You shoulda called me,” said Aunt Becky, after a long, still quiet. Jane didn’t dare to move. “I’d of come.”

“From Pete’s phone?” asked Mama. “I’m that stupid?”

Aunt Becky said nothing.

“I had to come get you,” said Mama. “He’s too big to move on my own.”

There was only one Pete. He lived a mile up the road, and it was his dog that got her. His dog that chewed off Jane’s ear and half her scalp. Then it was Aunt Becky that got Pete’s dog.

“Should of set a fire,” said Aunt Becky. Jane heard a lighter strike, then smelled the cigarette.

“They’d know it was me,” said Mama. “Still might, even if we bury him. But I got him clean, Becky. No blood.”

Aunt Becky laughed, then, but not the warm, wet laugh after a glass of whiskey.

“How’s that?”

“Couple Tasers and a plastic bag.”

Jane pictured Pete lying flat on the floor, holes burnt in his favorite shirt. Most people, if they had a dog that hurt a kid, paid some money and went to jail. County would come to get the dog, and put it down, too. But most people weren’t kin to the sheriff.

“Shoulda left it alone,” said Aunt Becky. “Raymond said we was square.”

“Raymond’s a sack of shit.”

“And he’s the law.”

At school the kids laughed. Not the first day, and not to what was left of her face. But soon they whispered, and then they laughed, and they made like she couldn’t hear them so long as they stuck by her missing ear. But she could. And now instead of sleeping she thought up ways to make them scared.

“If you ain’t going to help, quit wasting my time,” said Mama.

“I’ll help,” said Aunt Becky. Jane heard the sound of wooden legs slide across the hardwood floor. “Let me get my coat.”

Pete didn’t know it was Jane Marie’s birthday when he brought his dog around. He was just showing off. His dog was a fighter, he said, but oh how that dog would mind. Killer to puppy at just his command. Maybe Pete was sweet on Mama, that’s what Aunt Becky thought. That’s why he kept coming around. That’s why tonight he opened his door, when maybe he should have thought better.

Jane waited til they left to get Mama’s revolver. Sweet little .38 special, a gun she’d grown into. She could have brought it to school, but she didn’t. Now she was glad.

Nobody would wonder who killed Pete. That was not the problem. The problem was that nobody would care except the man with the means to do something about it. To Jane’s way of thinking, Pete’s family had done hers enough trouble. If the dog and Pete were dead, there was just one sonofabitch left to deal with.

Jane went into the kitchen and picked up the phone from its cradle. On a small yellowed card, taped just beneath, three phone number were written in pen. Fire. Ambulance. Sheriff. Jane dialed the last and listened to it ring, phone pressed up to her scarred mound of ear. This would scare them, she thought, when they heard what she’d done. And for the first time since her birthday, since she felt that dog’s teeth, Jane felt her scars stretch as she smiled.


From the Hip – Alex Segura

Hey folks!

So, an experiment – sort of, not like this hasn’t been done before. Though, I wanted to start an author Q&A series that wasn’t so ‘canned’, something where writers can shoot the shit while giving them the room to talk about whatever they’re pimping OR whatever strikes their fancy.

For the first installment of what I’m calling FROM THE HIP, we’ve got Alex Segura, the author of the Pete Fernandez series of books and a slew of awesome Archie comics. His latest, DANGEROUS ENDS, is dropping April 11th, 2017 from Polis Books, so I decided to use him as guinea pig and try my best to throw him off his game.

Our chat took place on 2/8/2017 – there’s been some light editing to improve the flow of conversation and to cover up Alex’s shocking opinion about pre-fab flooring.

ANGEL: So, to reiterate, loose convo. This is going on Shotgun Honey, so we know our audience. They’re fucking degenerates.

ALEX: Keep it CASUAL

ANGEL: EXACTLY. You ready for the snowstorm coming our way? Do you have French Toast reserves?

ALEX: I’m hoping it snows so I don’t have to drive to work! How about you guys?

ANGEL: Kids already got cancelled school and my job is cool with working from home, so we’re pretty much stuck at home the next two days.

ALEX: Not bad! G is turning one soon, so Eva’s running around prepping for a family thing this weekend

ANGEL: The big 1! That’s on Valentine’s Day, no?

ALEX: Yeah! Crazy! Valentine’s Day will never be the same

ANGEL: It’s an awesome time. Hell, we’re both going through the same stuff; Kid 2 is just a month older.

ALEX: We need to get them together again

ANGEL: I WILL TALK TO THE WIFE

ALEX: YEAH…Same here

ANGEL: For real, I have no idea what’s going on at all without her. So….WRITING

ALEX: OK!

ANGEL: You’ve been busy, dude. About a year, two books out with Polis, Archie Meets Ramones, ANOTHER Archie book and Pete Book 3!

You ready to take a breath?

ALEX: Not yet! Yeah, it’s been busy – but good. It’s like I’m working on two tracks, which is fun and keeps my brain clicking.

On one hand, I’m writing fun, all-ages comic book stuff, which is what first got me hooked on comics and reading, and on the other, I’m telling these really dark crime stories set in my hometown.

I can’t believe DANGEROUS ENDS is my third. It hasn’t really clicked in yet.

The comics happen faster – you write a script, then you start seeing artwork and before you know it, it’s on the stands

Novels are a much slower, more thoughtful process

ANGEL: I’m excited about this next one, Dangerous Ends. Having read it in an earlier state (VIP, YO) I really enjoyed the link to Cuban history. Pretty timely too! I never assume that folks pull directly from their family history, but is it safe to assume that here?

ALEX: Yeah, for sure. And I’m glad you got to read it early. Don’t worry, you’re duly thanked in the back! (Spoiler alert). The Cuba flashbacks sprung out of a conversation with my aunt one day. We were at a family gathering and Cuba came up, as it does, and she said there were a lot of family stories that I didn’t know and that she’d have to share with me sometime. Well, I couldn’t wait, so while everyone else is having a jolly good time I’m huddled with her talking about Castro, how our family got out of Cuba and the challenges a lot of them faces. It really made me want to paint a picture of Pete’s family.

But I also knew I didn’t want to just steal stories from my family’s past and switch names. I did a lot of research, about Cuba and Cuba-US relations and where the country was before Castro took power.

But that was fun research, and the kind of stuff I could do while still writing.

I also knew that I wanted the mystery from the past had to intersect with whatever Pete was investigating in the present, and at the end he had to leave the book changed and have some progression as a character.

I didn’t want him or his friends to be static.

ANGEL: I got a firm sense of that underlying tension and rage that is sort of a burden for a lo of Cuban Americans to bear. Did that inform how you wrote the flashbacks? Was it difficult to find a balance? Not to say Castro’s sins should be looked at objectively, but how do you pull back when trying to tell the story as it happened?

And to add a little perspective, I grew up with a lot of dudes who were first gen. Getting stories about their parents coming on the boats in the late 70’s / early 80’s. All different, but hell if that general mood is the same. It’s dark and hopeful.

ALEX: I tried to be objective in my research and how I presented what was going on, but I also used specific POVs, so you’re inherently biased. The first flashback is told from the perspective of Pete’s grandfather, a government official who’s at odds with the new regime. So, you’re already starting from slanted view.

But I did try to show some balance and not make it seem black and white, because it isn’t. We’re all human and even if you’re for the good guys, you can make mistakes and sometimes get corrupted by power or money or whatever.

The challenge was to show the Cuba parts accurately but also write a compelling mystery while still propelling the present narrative forward, which was tricky but I think it paid off.

And Pete, like me and many guys or ladies my age, isn’t immersed in the exile story. I mean, I grew up hearing stories about Cuba and it was ever-present, but I didn’t go there or visit, so my connection to the island was very cerebral. It’s the same for Pete. So I wanted to give readers a sense of what his connection is without literally taking him there.

ANGEL: And it’s all so timely. Over the past year, I think a lot of us have forgotten how shook up Cuba’s been. Did that help to inform any changes/edits for the book?

ALEX: The changes for Cuba happened as I was finishing up a polish of the draft, so I tried my best to keep the book as timely as possible. When I first wrote it, Castro was still alive, for example. So, on revision, there’s a mention of his death. Things like that. A lot of the heavy plot lifting had been done, but I wanted to interject as much about current events as I could. There’s mention of the softening relations and the loosening of travel restrictions, and it gives readers a chance to peek into Pete’s head and see what his take on all of it is.

ANGEL: Would you take a trip out there if you could?

ALEX: You know, this came up recently – as in, a literal invite to go, expenses paid. And I couldn’t do it. Not until the Castros – plural – are gone and no longer in power and an actual democracy is in place. I just can’t bring myself to know that my money is going into their pockets. It’s a simple view, I know, but sometimes we can only work in broad strokes.

I’d love to see the country, explore, visit the house where my parents grew up and so on, but I also know how desperately my family struggled to leave Cuba while Castro was in power, so I don’t think it’d be respectful of me to take a pleasure cruise now because it’s easy or convenient.

ANGEL: That makes sense. With all that history (mostly negative) I can see it being difficult to just dump money into the pockets of bastards.

ALEX: Right. And Raul Castro is not an innocent. Not Being Fidel doesn’t exonerate you.

ANGEL: And speaking from parallel experience with my own Caribbean roots, it’s not easy to see the places you come from – especially when it’s pretty much 3rd world.

ALEX: Right. I can’t expect the picture I saw, from the 60s, to be reflected today. I definitely want to experience it at some point, though, but I also have to know when the time is right.

This isn’t a diss on anyone who goes to Cuba. We all have to make our choices and I know people have close family there. I have some distant cousins and other distant relatives, so the urgency for human reasons doesn’t exist. But I can understand that.

ANGEL: THIS IS A HAPPY CONVO – Way to make a political book.

ALEX: CHEERFUL EVEN

It’s funny, because when I set out to write it, I was in a very Ellroy state of mind, but the book became something else.

Which is what you want, I think.

ANGEL: I meant to ask you, especially in light of Pete’s musical tastes AND your work with Archie. You’re obviously a big music guy, but what’s YOUR background. Were you in a band? Play an instrument? Become a master of triangle?

Also, I’ve been drinking – SURPRISE

ALEX: Ha! I am a triangle guru! Drink up, pal

Yeah, I’ve always loved music. I was in a few bands in Miami, though bands might be a stretch – we never played shows. But we had fun, wrote songs, practiced a lot. I was in a few bands in NY, most recently a group called Faulkner Detectives. We put out an EP and played a handful of gigs in and around NYC. The band is on a bit of a hiatus – kids, jobs, life – but we’ve talked about playing again. I loved being in a band and I really think songwriting is a helpful tool for any writer, so’s poetry. Learning to be compact with your words, and being able to tap into a feeling instead of just mechanically moving from plot point to plot point is important and not easy to teach.

Songwriting is unique in that you have to paint a picture or tell a story with a few words or lines and then support those words with a musical backdrop. It’s a fun challenge, and I think songwriting helped my prose and vice versa. Same with comics.

ANGEL: Shot in the dark – bassist?

ALEX: No! But the bass was my first instrument when I was a teenager. Then I discovered I wanted to write songs, so I needed a guitar. I played guitar and sang some songs in the last band.

ANGEL: Nice. I could never nail guitar down, so I played bass for a while and gave up. It’s been almost 20 years since I touched one that wasn’t a Rock Band instrument.

ALEX: I haven’t played much lately, either. It’s tough. One thing having a kid does is it makes you really focus your time across the board. I play guitar with the kid sometimes and that’s fun, but it’s been a while since I sat down and tried to write a song.

ANGEL: I play conga occasionally.

ALEX: Moog?

ANGEL: Nope, straight up LPs – donkey skin and all.

ALEX: Hardcore

ANGEL: So what’s next? You’ve got that special coming soon that focuses on The Archies (is that the current Waid canon?) and then what?

ALEX: Yeah, THE ARCHIES is in the updated Archie-verse, which is cool. That’s the first time I’ve worked there and it’s been a blast. I’m co-writing it with Matt Rosenberg. We wrote ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES, and it’s drawn by Joe Eisma, who was the artist on the main ARCHIE title, which is neat.

After that, I have some ideas (and about 50k words) for another Pete book or two, I’m working on this weird, horror/thriller thing that wouldn’t leave my brain and I have a few other comic book things in various stages.

I’m also pecking away at a few short stories I need to finish for anthologies and such.

ANGEL: The new Archie stuff has been a ton of fun. I still need to check out Riverdale. Chances are high now that wifey and I are done with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

ALEX: It’s a funny show! Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I mean. Riverdale can be funny, but it’s surprisingly noir and stylish, so I think you guys will dig it.

ANGEL: So you’re working on next steps for Pete. You’ve had the dude go through the ringer, alcoholism, death of loved ones, massive betrayals. What else can you do to this poor bastard?

ALEX: Man, I don’t know. I joke and say “Poor Pete” all the time when promoting the book, but it’s true – he’s been through a lot of shit. I knew, going into the writing of DOWN THE DARKEST STREET, the second book, that I wanted it to be, well, dark. I wanted it to really bring him to his knees, not only in terms of the mystery but his own personal demons. For DANGEROUS ENDS, I wanted to show him having progressed, at least in terms of his alcoholism but also his experience level. The Pete we meet in DANGEROUS ENDS knows the basic of what he’s doing. But I also didn’t want it to feel like “Pete Case #453,” y’know? So there had to be personal stakes for him. Each Pete book works on two levels for me – it’s about The Case, and The Mystery – but it’s also about Pete and his quest to not only be a better detective, but a better person. And that, as we all know, involves a lot of missteps and pitfalls. It’s not a straight line.

DANGEROUS ENDS, without spoiling too much, leaves Pete in a completely new situation/status quo, and I’m excited to explore that. I never want a book in the series to feel like it doesn’t matter or like it’s a holding pattern.

Which is tough, because then I think your series becomes finite, automatically

You can only pull the guy through the fire so many times.

When I finished the book, I figured we were in a good place to try something a little off the path he’s been on. Still, things should blow up again – explosions are cool.

Yeah, it sets Pete off on a new path, which I think is good, and it’ll keep readers (and me) on their toes. It opens up new story possibilities.

ANGEL: But there will be explosions, right?

ALEX: For sure. Lots of them.

ANGEL: Holding you to that.

ALEX: For a series, though, it’s tough because you have an inherent expectation, but you also want to keep yourself interested as the writer.

BOOM BOOM

ANGEL: Absolutely. I get that. I’m not the hugest fan of the IDEA of writing a series? On a personal level. If I can pull it off, sure, but like you said with Pete, there has to be a place where you can surprise yourself, right?

ALEX: It’s a cliché, but I believe it because it’s what I do: I write the book I want to read. I wanted to read a detective series that really featured Miami as the setting. I wanted to read about a PI who maybe wasn’t super-great at his job. It didn’t exist, so I wrote it.

That applies to the other books, too. I wanted to read a serial killer book that was a little different. So that’s what I wrote. I wanted a wider-screen look at the Cuban exile experience wrapped in a nice mystery/thriller packaging. It’s more instinctual at first – like, what am I interested in the moment? What stories get me jazzed? – but you see it in your rearview as you move on to the next thing. Oh, OK. That’s what I wanted to write.

ANGEL: I think you’ve nailed it and I think folks are going to be surprised with Book 3, Dangerous Ends is really enjoyable.

Thanks man! I’m glad you liked it. This was a challenging book to write but also the most fulfilling.

ANGEL: So beyond self-promotion (selfish bastard), what have you been reading/hearing/watching/eating/whatevering?

ALEX: Great question. In terms of mystery novels, I really dug Reed Farrel Coleman’s WHAT YOU BREAK, the sequel to his Edgar-nominated WHERE IT HURTS. I love the Moe Prager books, and when Reed announced his deal to do the Jesse Stone novels, the bit that jumped out at me most was the fact that he’d be starting a new series. Gus Murphy is a great, flawed protagonist and Reed just makes it look easy. I’ve been on a big Stephen King kick lately, which might be due to all the insanity happening in the world. Who would have thought that reading about killer clowns, worldwide plagues and crazy, rabid dogs would be soothing in comparison to The World Today, but it has…

ANGEL: Where It Hurts was fucking great. I need to pick up What You Break.

ALEX: In terms of TV, I finally got around to watching The Night Of, which I thought was great. But aside from that, we’ve been on a fairly disciplined West Wing re-watch. Babies also prevent you from having lots of TV time. So does novel-writing.

In terms of comics I’ll buy anything by Brubaker/Phillips, Rucka, Fraction, Snyder, Lapham, DeConnick…the list goes on. I was doing a fairly epic Uncanny X-Men/Claremont re-read, too, but that tapered off when the team got to Australia.

Also big shot out to Azzarello and Risso’s new one, MOONSHINE. Great supernatural noir shout out

ANGEL: With X-Men, Wasn’t that whole Siege Perilous thing?

ALEX: Yyyyeeaaaah

ANGEL: BLECH

ALEX: It’s not bad, per se, it just lost me and I wasn’t sure I was ready to go through it (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) again.

ANGEL: WELL DONE

ALEX: It did make me want to revisit the Simonson run on X-Factor and the Sienkiewicz New Mutants stuff, so that’s good.

You know, in all my free time.

ANGEL: Alex, speaking of children, terrible Claremont runs, and my drinking, I’m gonna break here and thank you for letting me run this little experiment.

ALEX: Thanks for having me! This was fun.

ANGEL: WE’RE CUTTING EDGE AT SHOTGUN HONEY

ALEX: NICE WORK ANGEL – Thanks a lot, seriously!

ANGEL: No doubt! Good luck with Snowmaggedon and we will set up baby playdate. NOIR AF

ALEX: yes! Soon! GOOD NIGHT!


The Fixer

“Fuck does he know?”

“‘Fuck does he know?’ He’s the motherfucking boss, Walt.”

“Yeahyeah.”

The men lifted the crate. Blue inked arms, sheening with sweat in the late August night, worked under the thin shaft of a propped flashlight.

Like four pythons crawling outta barbershop, Wade thought.

He readjusted the lens and snapped three more shots, ensuring no glare from the rinky-dink flashlight ousted him, then returned it to the duffel.

“We could’ve dropped this in the river and he’d never know.”

“‘less he checked the unit.”

“Ain’t gonna check the goddamn unit. Don’t even remember my fucking name most of the time.”

“Maybe ‘cause he ain’t got time to learn every Jim-n-Joe’s name. He’s the motherfucking boss, Walt.”

“I know he’s the motherfucking boss, Shawn. Shit. A little fucking respect wouldn’t hurt though.”

Wade typed into his phone.

IseeTheBugs. SquashOrPinch?

Wade took the lighter fluid from the duffel and stuffed it into his back pocket. He picked up the bat.

The text tone reply echoed off the concrete walls.

Squash.

“–hear that?”

“Watch it!”

There was a crash and the sound of splintering wood as Wade rounded the corner into view. The flashlight rolled off the pickup’s bed, clattering into darkness.

“Evening,” Wade said.

Something pungent began to seep out from the cracked bottom of the wooden crate.

“Butter fingers?”

“Huh?”

“Y’all got butter fingers, Waltie? Up’n dropping things that don’t belong to you. Gotta be careful, Shawn.”

“The fuck’re you?” Walt said.

Wade watched the rise and fall of the big man’s chest. The head of a dragon crested then shrank under the dirty jersey.

“The fixer.”

“Fixer?” Shawn’s voice was sham incredulity.

His eyes widened.

Wade lifted the bat.

“What kind of fairy carries a pink bat?” Walt said, making a show of stretching his muscles.

“See, I use Sluggers. Can’t match their precision. Their sweet spot. That stiffer feel. Ain’t nothing like Sluggers.”

Stiffer feel? Hear that, Shawn? He really is–”

Wade caught him under the chin. A pink clipped portion of Walt’s tongue heaved into the air with the spit and blood.

“That sound though? Hear?” Wade asked, turning to Shawn.

“Wha–”

“I hate the sound of aluminum but,” Wade pointed the bat to the cracked crate, “they don’t splinter or break.”

“Whatchoo want?”

Wade sniffed.

“Smell that? Y’all must’ve cracked the vat too. How’s a body supposed to dissolve if the acid’s leakin’?”

Shawn stammered something like sorry.

Walt groaned.

Wade knelt and grabbed a handful of the semi-conscious man’s hair.

“Would it matter if I’s gay?” he said. “Your brains’re still gonna be all over my pink pole, pardner.”

Wade rose then set about making dents in the Slugger.

* * *

“God, man,” Shawn said, tears and snot smearing his goatee. “D-d-don’t–”

Wade reached around and got the lighter fluid. He tossed it to Shawn, who caught it awkwardly.

Wade encircled Walt with the bat.

“Hose him.”

Shawn hesitated, but complied.

“Little more, now.”

Shawn did as instructed. He made to toss the canister back.

Wade shook his head.

“You now.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“N-n-no,” Walt said, holding out the canister.

“You gotta burn at least a little bit, Shawnyboy. How else can I say, ‘Sorry, boss. Thought he’s dead?’”

Walt stared open-mouthed.

“Go on. Just a little bit around the shoulders there. Good.”

The canister clanged onto the asphalt.

“Now, once I light you, count to three then take off just as fast as you can,” Wade pointed the bat, “to the river.”

Shawn tried to nod.

“Th-th-thank you,” he said. “You’ll n-n-never hear from me again.”

“Good.”

Wade flicked the Bic and touched it to Shawn’s shirt. It caught and spread, sending flames flickering up, lapping at Shawn’s bare neck and chin. Shawn jerked but Wade held his forearm.

“One.”

Screaming.

“Two.”

Acid and burnt hair filled Wade’s nostrils.

“Three.”

Wade let go.

Shawn flung his hands at the fire. He turned to run but Wade caught his right knee with the bat. Shawn dropped, slapping at the flames. He started crawling.

Wade picked up the canister then dropped it, carefully, onto Shawn’s back.

It didn’t catch right away.

Wade lit Walt.

The screams died out after the canister went.


The Inheritance

Will looked at the house through the window of his beat-up sedan, rain trailing along the glass. The house was large, and the windows glowed warmly. He opened the door and cinched his coat tighter around his waist as he hurried toward the house.

When he reached the brick porch his dark hair stuck to his head and water dribbled down his face. He rang the bell and he could hear the sound of it echoing inside. Over a minute later the door opened to reveal a tall man, younger than Will, and fairer. He had the same eyes though.

“Willy? Come in.”

“Hey Harv. Thanks.” Will stepped inside and peeled off the soaked coat, revealing baggy cargo pants and a hoodie underneath.

“I was just in my study having a drink. I have a fire going. Let’s head back.”

“Sure.” He’d never been to his cousin’s house before, and couldn’t help but marvel at the scope of the place. It looked like something from a TV show. The study was stereotypical. It was all wood paneling and deep brown leather, with hints of deep green dotting the space. Will’s eyes were drawn to the desk, and the humidor featured on its surface. It was made of thin rectangles of a variety of woods carefully fit and laminated together to create a unique look. It was his grandfather’s, then it uncle’s, now it was supposed to be his. Harv caught him staring.

“You’re not here about the humidor are you Willy? We’ve already talked about this. You don’t even smoke cigars.”

“Don’t call me Willy.” He couldn’t stop his hands from shaking.

“Sorry. Will.”

“You know that I talked to Uncle Tim about it and he promised it to me. It’s the only thing I wanted. I’m taking it tonight.” He put his hand into the pocket of his pants.

Harv sat down behind the desk and opened the lid of the box. He pulled out a thick cigar with an ornate orange and gold ring around it, clipped the tip with gold trimmers, and lit it with a sleek gold torch. Leaning back in his chair, he puffed and rotated the cigar, ensuring an even burn. “You’re not taking the box out of this house. It is mine and I enjoy it. It’s enough that Dad took you in after your father went to prison, you don’t get first pick of his things now that he’s dead.”

“Uncle Tim hated you,” Will seethed. “You’re so goddamned entitled! He wanted me to have that, and I’m going to take it.” He pulled his shaking hand out of his pocket to reveal an old revolver, the metal weathered and showing signs of rust. He raised it and looked down the barrel. “You can give it to me, or I’ll take it myself. Just give me the humidor, Harvey.”

Harv laughed. “What are you going to do, shoot me? With that? Gramps’s old service revolver? Good luck. It probably hasn’t been fired since the war.”

The shot rang out loudly in the small study, and a thin trail of smoke rose from the tip of the gun’s barrel. “After a good cleaning and some practice, it does the job,” Will said to himself as he lowered it. He walked the three steps to the desk and picked up the humidor.

Running his hands along the side, he found the spot that his uncle had showed him two years ago, and pressed. A single panel clicked and slid out enough for him to pull it out the rest of the way revealing a thin drawer. Inside sat a safe-deposit box key. Will took it, and dropped the humidor back onto the desk, cigars spilling over its surface.

“Keep your damn box, Harvey,” Will said as he turned to leave. “I don’t need it anymore.”


Forsaking All Others

I stand with the well-wishers, watching as her dad’s borrowed Buick slowly pulls away from the chapel, the “Just Married” sign growing smaller as it recedes into the distance.  Inside me, a cavern of stone walls slick with my tears. Images flutter in the darkness like bats.

Kelly and I had been best friends since we wore matching Snoopy Band-Aids on knees bloodied from play. This was before knee pads, before helmets, before it was okay for girls to love each other.  I was the gawky one, too tall for my age, all elbows and hip bones. Kelly was rounded, soft and full, womanly beyond her years. Innocent sleepovers turned into opportunities to explore each other’s bodies, drifting to sleep a tangle of limbs steeped in the scent of our own world.

In high school, it was I who would develop into the object of unwanted male attention, my body betraying me in curves and mounds I struggled to hide, while Kelly grew only rounder. I assured her repeatedly that I had no interest in returning their advances, but on more than one occasion, she would seek out ways to punish me. Sometimes it was just a silly flirtation with someone to piss me off. But one afternoon, after receiving her message to meet behind the girls’ gym, I saw her full-tongue kissing Alden Perry from chemistry class.

I’d gotten A’s in chemistry, captivated by how just the right combinations can create or destroy.

Kelly found me in the school parking lot, retching into a garbage can. For a brief moment, I thought I could detect a smile. She swore it had only been a ploy to test my affection.

“I saw you in your gym shorts with those boys from the track team. Their eyes were all over you, and you liked it. You know you did,” she said.

“That’s crazy!  We were just talking.  I wasn’t kissing them.  So you’re into guys now?  Is that it?”

“Don’t be stupid,” she said. “It was disgusting.  I’m sorry.”

I let her stand in my silence until she began to cry, to beg, to hurt as I had. Only then, did I lock my arms around her like a drowning body to a buoy. “I don’t know what I’d do if you left me, Kelly. I really don’t.”

Rage and pain can distort all reason, until the most heinous of acts can become surprisingly acceptable.

That should have been the end of it, but it turns out Kelly wasn’t quite as disgusted by that kiss as she professed.

It was our graduation. We were still dressed in our caps and gowns when she told me she was pregnant. I did not hear a thing she said after that. I had stepped outside of myself and there I remained.

It’s impressive what can be achieved by mixing potassium chlorate with some simple Vaseline and a few wires.

I watch the end play out now as if on a movie screen. But there are no rolling credits, no swell of music. Just before their car disappears around that bend of dying sycamore trees, Kelly turns and looks back at me. Our eyes lock onto each other for that last precious moment.  I wave one more time, and then wait for the explosion.


Old Acquaintances Be Forgot

Seven minutes to midnight.  The champagne waited patiently for Tanner to finish up cleaning after himself, nestled gently in a bucket of half-molten ice.  He sidestepped the pool of blood coming from the large man’s head wound.  The two other men were sprawled in their own bodily waste, turning the hardwood floor of this exquisite apartment a dark red.  While Tanner wiped away his fingerprints from any surface he might’ve touched, he passed by the balcony, taking a peek from the side.

Down there, in the streets of the greatest city in the world, were the people getting ready for the countdown.  A new year was upon

them, and they were partying down in Time Square like there was no tomorrow.

He turned around, seeing the result of the skirmish that ruined his own New Year’s celebration.  The bodies of three men sent to kill him and failed to do so.  Beatrice, the girl who got killed instead, sat at the end of the table.  Bits of brie stuck to what was left of her face.  Poor girl.  Of all the people in this apartment tonight, she was the least deserving of being shot to pieces fifteen minutes before midnight.  Hell of a way to ring in the new year.

A cough escaped from one of the men on the floor.  The bloodied mess of a man slowly inched his way toward his Desert Eagle.  Tanner pulled and cocked his gun.  It served no point other than making a loud ‘clack’ noise, and wouldn’t help his shot in any way, but he found it an effective way to deter people from going for their weapon.

“I’ll say this once.  Do not pick that up.”

The man coughed, then slowly turned himself onto his back.  Tanner remember the guy as the one whose gun jammed earlier.  His blue vest and jacket turned a dark purple as the blood seeped into the fabric.  Tanner had no illusions about the guy’s chances.

“You know, if you’re gonna kill a guy, get a gun that’s not a piece of shit that looks cool in the movies,” he said.

“Oh, fuck…I’m dying, aren’t I?” the man asked.

Tanner nodded.  No sense in sugarcoating the truth.  He looked

at the clock.  Three minutes to midnight.  The people in the street grew rowdier.  It was then, looking over the carnage that was the remains of his New Year dinner with Beatrice, he was hit by something he’d never allowed himself to feel before; a spark of sympathy.

He kneeled down to the man in blue.  “Can you get up?” he asked.  The man nodded weakly, which Tanner took as a no.  Still, despite the stain it would leave on his own suit, he helped his would-be killer into a chair.  He waltzed over to the bucket and popped the cork on the champagne bottle, pouring two glasses.

“Why…why are you doing this?” the man muttered.  “We…I tried to ice you…”

Tanner shrugged.  “It’s new years, innit?  ‘Old acquaintance be forgot’ and all, right?  Drink with me as we close out a shit end to a shit year, and toast to a better one.”

“You’re a weird son-of-a-bitch, Tanner,” the man said between coughs of blood.

Tanner handed the man his glass.  He asked; “Got any resolutions?”

“Fuck you, man,” chuckled the man dryly.

They both looked at the clock.  Thirty seconds.  Were it any other circumstances, Tanner would’ve used this time to question his ‘guest’ about who sent them and why they came to kill him, then blow his brains out.  His sentimental side just got the better of him.  Twenty seconds.  More cheering from the streets below.  The two men

watched the clock tick down to twelve.  Ten seconds.  Five.  Four.  Three.  Two.  One.  Then, an explosion of fireworks and music.

“Happy New Year,” said Tanner.

A glass fell to the ground, spilling champagne into a puddle of blood.  Tanner drank from his own glass, then shut the man’s eyes.  It was a new year, and there were bits of the old one to clean up.


Small Town Creed

A golf club slammed into the side of Sammy Lee’s face. He fell to the ground and looked up at Crispin.

‘Is that the best you’ve got? You soft Southern shite,’ he said through broken teeth. He spat blood as he spoke and laughed, although he really felt like screaming.

Sammy Lee could see Piccadilly Circus’ neon lights through Em’s office window. Despite the pain he was in, he still thought it looked beautiful. He smiled.

Em sat behind her desk smoking an e-cigarette. She looked disgusted.

‘I hope some fucker is going to clean this up after you’re finished,’ she said.

‘Of course, darling,’ said Crispin.

Em cringed. Hearing his upper class accent was like getting massaged by sandpaper.

‘I’ll send The Five-foot Pole to sort it out,’ said Crispin. ‘It should be well within her capabilities, limited though they may be.’

He sniggered.

Sammy Lee tried to get up but he slipped back. He screamed with pain.

Crispin twirled the golf club like a cheerleader’s baton.

‘I’m getting a tad bored with this,’ he said. ‘If you wish to return to Hovis land with some of your teeth and all of your limbs intact you had better tell me where my fucking car is posthaste.’

‘I keep telling you. I don’t fucking know. The puff that sucked you off took it. He was supposed to come back with the dosh after he sold the car.’

Em stood. She checked her reflection in the wall mirror. Tall, blonde, thin. Same as ever. Maybe the odd worry lines around the eyes but that was it.

‘You know this is all your fucking fault, Crispy nuts,’ she said.

Crispin cringed at his nickname.

‘Why blame me?’ he said. ‘This Northern pleb stole the car. Not me.’

‘The car was your responsibility,’ said Em. ‘The car’s contents, more importantly.’

She walked toward Sammy Lee. Loomed over him.

‘How did you do it?’ she said. ‘How did you manage to rob that soft boy’s car? The security system is supposed to be top of the range. A Russian hacker set it up.’

Sammy Lee shuffled away from her. Suddenly scared.

‘Well?’ said Em.

‘Yeah, you see … I’m good,’ said Sammy Lee. ‘Really good. I can get into any car.’

‘Any?’ said Em.

‘Yeah. Any.’

‘No matter what the security system is?’

‘Yeah. I’m that good. That’s why I came down South, like. To make some dosh. I can do houses and offices too.’

Em smiled.

‘I like that,’ she said. ‘Initiative. I still remember arriving in London, trying  to make my fortune. The scrapes I got into, I could tell you. That’s why I have my office overlooking Piccadilly Circus. To remind me of how far I’ve come.’

She frowned as she looked at Crispin who was leaning against her desk, grinding his teeth.

‘That’s something the posh boy here wouldn’t understand,’ said Em. ‘Born with a silver spoon in his mouth and up his arse this one. He’s had his uses mind you. Well, once upon a time.’

She turned back to Sammy Lee.

‘Which particular homosexual are you talking about,’ said Em. ‘One of the ones that hangs around Eros? One of the rent boys. ’

She nodded toward her window.

‘Aye. One of them. He’s from Cornwall or somewhere,’ croaked Sammy Lee.

‘A little Cornish pasty, eh?’ said Em. ‘Just your type Crispin.’

‘Look,’ said Crispin. ‘All we need to do is …’

‘Shh,’ said Em ‘All we need is love.’

‘What are you taking about?’ said Crispin.

Em leaned close to Sammy Lee.

‘Do you think you could find this puff … with the right financial incentive?’ she said.

‘Yeah,’ said Sammy Lee. ‘Sure I could.’

Em smiled. She patted him on the head.

‘Tally ho, Crispin,’ said Em.

She pulled out a knife and stabbed Crispin in the throat. Twisted the knife until he collapsed gurgling to the floor.

‘Oh well,’ said Em.

She picked up her desk phone and spoke into it.

‘Lee, can you send in the five-foot Pole,’ she said.

She looked over at Sammy Lee. ‘And tell her to bring her first aid kit. I think we’ve got a new recruit.’


Immolation

Tomorrow I will burn a man. Burnt wool and blackened skin, the freckled face peeled away in a fire, closing into itself like moonflowers. I will burn the corpse until it crumbles to nothing. Then his wife will be mine, the wife, who cannot know a love like the one I harbor for her. Surely she will know, surely, when the man is gone.

I will think about the man, the burning man, when I follow him to the grocery store, a dim shadow flickering behind carts of watermelon. He will look like me. His hair will be black rather than dark brown, and his nose bigger, and he will have put on the cozy weight of a husband. But the similarities—impeccable. Scarred brow. A slight limp in his left leg. Oh, how I will perfect that limp.

And he will choose a watermelon, the one I recommend. I will stalk him to a side street that filters into the suburbs, thinking about a life with his wife, and about the sound that flesh makes when it is burning. A soft sizzle, perhaps, like whispering.

No, I will correct myself as I reach for the man’s arm, rather, it will sound like the brush of autumn leaves against gravel. Orange leaves, freckled face, burnt face: in the end, it matters not, only that I leave no trace of ourselves.

Sometimes burning and loving are the same. I will kneel before the wife’s doorstep with a bright, blooming face and promise her anything. My fists will uncurl and a wraith of ash will spill out onto the porch. And when she says burn, I will close myself into the flame, a black-orange blossom, and crumble to nothing.


In the Know: Hardway

Today, Shotgun Honey celebrates its publishing relaunch with the release of Hardway by Hector Acosta. Hector as he’ll reiterate below has contributed to both our flash fiction site content and the Both Barrels anthology series. His first anthology story featured Thursday Malone, a character I immediately gravitated, and considered with much potential. When we branched out into publishing longer works under One Eye Press, I hounded Hector for a Thursday Malone story until he finally submitted Hardway. My first reaction was Where is Thursday? And what am I supposed to do with a story about a hormonal kid with fantasies about wrestling? Instead of throwing it back and demanding Thursday, I dug in, and to my surprise I enjoyed what Hector submitted. It’s not typical OEP/SH stuff, but it was a story with heart, about family, and about the adolescent fantasies that lead to becoming an adult.

Let’s pulled down the mic, and get this event started.

So today is the big day, HARDWAY is entering the ring. What is the music blaring on the PA?

I have to preface this by saying that I’ve been accused of having HORRIBLE music taste. Most the stuff I listen to is either taken from wrestling (shocker), or musicals.

That out of the way, Hardway totally comes out to My Chemical Romance’s Welcome to the Black Parade, partly because I always thought that song would make a great wrestling intro, and also because there’s something about the way the song is structured that mirrors Hardway‘s story. It has a slow, melancholic start, but halfway through the tempo picks up and doesn’t let up for the rest for the song.

Every great wrestler has a great backstory, what’s the backstory for HARDWAY?

The idea of Hardway came after I fell down a Youtube hole and ended up watching a bunch of backyard wrestling videos. Backyard wrestling has a not entirely undeserved bad rap. But as I watched matches where teenagers beat the holy hell out of each, and crash through elaborate set ups even the WWE wouldn’t perform, I realized how much the kids also had to love wrestling. You don’t get thrown off a ladder and into hard concrete if you only sort of like something.

And that’s when Hardway popped into my head. I’d written a couple of stories involving wrestling before, usually from the perspective of a wrestler. And as much as Spencer, Billy, and the rest of their friends would like to think so, they are more fans than wrestlers. I conceived the first version of Hardway as a short story, but after being finished with it, I found I had more to say about Spencer and the RBWL and got to reworking it.

You’ve got Welcome to the Black Parade playing, the fans are rallied behind your backstory, what’s the signature move? What’s going to get fans rooting for HARDWAY?

If Hardway is in the ring, mounting a comeback and preparing end the match, I could hear the announcers (Jim Ross in this perfect, fantasy world of mine) screaming “THE KID HAS HEART,” in that great, Southern drawl of his.

Hardway is a book that ends up wearing its heart on its sleeve. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a crime, there’s people doing stupid things for stupid reasons, and ending up getting mired in violence because of it, but more than anything, it’s about Spencer, a kid who doesn’t quite fit in and is feeling more and more like an island. About the love he has for wrestling, for his brother, and for his brother’s girlfriend. Which is largely what gets him in trouble with a psychotic drug dealer and apartment over.

Being the man behind the mask, the great puppeteer, tell the fans about Hector Acosta.

I live in New York with an understanding wife who allows me to watch way more wrestling than any human being should and a dog which I have a love/hate relationship with. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and have a bunch of half finished vampire detective books to prove it. I became more serious about it when I discovered two things: Twitter, and Shotgun Honey. Both opened my eyes to an insane amount of talented, welcoming writers and their nasty (in the best way) stories. My first thing I ever submitted in fact was a flash fiction piece for Shotgun Honey, and I’ve been–too slowly lately–writing ever since.

HARDWAY has the title and the belt, and the brass wants you for a big tag team event, who do you want in your corner?

Short answer? Just just on my twitter (@Hexican) and pick up the book from everyone I follow.

Longer answer:

I’ve mentioned him before, but Gabino Iglesias needs to be read by more people. His barrior/supernatural/noir book Zero Saints was a game changer.

Angel Colon is one messed up guy, and I say that in the nicest way possible. No Happy Endings has probably one of the most shocking opening chapters I’ve read in a while. Plus the dude writes for the WWE comic, so I gotta say nice things.

I’m really looking forward to Thomas Pluck‘s Bad Boy Boogie. Really dig his short stories, and if you want a noir/superhero mashup, you have to read his Denny the Dent collection.

Dave White writes of New Jersey so well I basically have no reason to ever go there.

I’m still bummed Chris Irvin‘s wrestling opus hasn’t come out, but I’ll make do with his great short story collection.

Sheesh, this turned into a ten match didn’t it?

A regular Royal Rumble, for sure. As a fan for wrestling, what is your favorite moment, event, or match up?

Smackdown- August 28, 2003.

This will probably seem like a random choice to most, but it holds a special place for me for a couple of reasons. First, this was at what probably was my peak wrestling fandom. We’re talking ‘takes part in online wrestling roleplay’ level here. Secondly, the show was in El Paso, Texas, my hometown, so I got to experience it live with a bunch of friends. And finally, and probably most importantly, we got to watch the hometown hero Eddie Guerrero make a glorious, twenty minute entrance.

It’s funny, if you ask me what matches were on that show, I couldn’t tell you. All I remember is how the entire arena exploded at Eddie’s theme song, and how we hung at every word he said.

You’ve got the fans going crazy like Eddie with your entrance, what are you going to do for an encore?

I have a couple things I’m working on at the moment.

First up I’m looking to finish a crime story set in a border factory town. It’s the first piece of fiction where I’ve actually gone out of my way to do some research, as it not only takes place in factory town, but also in the 1960’s.

I’m in the revising stages of a horror novella right now. I’m hesitant to speak too much about because I’m not sure if it’ll see the light of day, so we’ll see. I will say that the thing which got me writing it is because for once, I came up with what I thought was a great, fitting title for it.

And finally there’s Thursday Malone. He’s a character who’s shown up in the Shotgun Honey anthologies and one of my favorites to write, and I’m not going to lie, a big part of it just because of the name itself. If everything goes as plan, I should have a new tale before the end of the year with him.

We definitely hope to see these get to the ring. What move would recommend other wannabe wrestlers have in their arsenal?

In a wrestling match, we often only remember the big moves- the finisher that knock a wrestler out, or allows their opponent to get the pin. But the reality is that very few matches would work if the wrestlers did their big moves over and over again. A good match needs to have a sense of rhythm, a back and forth that pulls the audience in.

In writing, sometimes we focus too much on the ‘big moves’. On making sure that the writing is perfect, that we have that great opening line, or that our dialogue sounds just right. And yeah, those are important, but what’s more important is the most basic of things– just showing up to write.

More talented writers have said this than I, and I”ll be the first to admit I don’t always follow this advise, but if you don’t sit down to do the work and build a writing routine, the rest isn’t going to matter. Just like a wrestler who can pull off a 450 off the top rope but doesn’t know how to run the ropes will probably not get anywhere.

Unless you’re Roman Reigns (kidding!)

Praise for HARDWAY by Hector Acosta

Hardway hits like a chair to the back of the head, but underneath all the bone-cracking action there’s also a surprisingly sweet story about a boy trying to make his way in the world. If you’re a fan of noir or wrestling – or both – this is one show you’ll want to buy a ticket to.”

Nick Kolakowski, author of A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps

“Witty, touching, and as melodramatic as any classic pro wrestling story, Hardway stands as an excellent debut from Hector Acosta.”

Angel Luis Colón, author of No Happy Endings and The Fury of Blacky Jaguar

“Hector Acosta delivers a fitting tribute to the passion of pro wrestling. Parts coming-of-age, crime, and nostalgia – with a bit of an 80’s vibe to boot – Hardway hits all the right notes.”

Christopher Irvin, author of Burn Cards and Safe Inside the Violence

“A novella that hits you where it hurts, forces you to grapple with your desires and defeat, but ultimately leaves you panting and begging for more.”

D.G. Sutter, author of La Maquina Oscura

Buy Hardway Today!


Dick Tracy (Dirty Jobs)

That ass looked familiar. And as I worked to place the booty—the dancer raised her arms. Soon as I spotted the tats, I recognized my wife: “What the hell you doin’, Tracy?”

“Never mind,” she whispered, spinnin’ on six-inch heels. “What are you doing here?”

“Gotta meet a guy.” (She had me whisperin’, too.)

“Meeting here was your only option?”

“Yeah, the guy insisted. Least I’m wearin’ clothes. What is your excuse?”

Caressin’ my tie she sidled closer: “Told you a month ago, honey, I was going undercover.”

“Breaking news then, baby: You got no freakin’ cover.”

Blue eyes darted left-n-right: then she snatched my hand. “Give me 100-bucks.”

“Why?”

Tracy goosed my ass, tugged me toward a curtain. “Cuz I’m giving you a lap dance.”

“If you’re giving me a lap dance, why give you 100-bucks?”

“Gotta look legit—or you could blow my cover.”

“Why do I hafta remind ya: Your cover don’t exist.”

Yankin’ the curtain closed, she cradled my leery hips. The AC blastin’ overhead tweaked her nipples good-n-hard. But I couldn’t fight the sinkin’ feelin’ … this cover-job cranked her heater.

Snaggin’ my lapels—she rappelled me to her tits. Breath laced with weed and brandy … ripplin’ my ears. Wild blonde-n-tangled hair danglin’ on our shoulders.

“We’re going after Tito Ortega. The guy’s always been bad news. But now he’s running guns—and engaged in Human Trafficking. We’ve got three dead Russian girls. And his goons are the likely perps.

“BTW Jack, you never heard this stuff from me.”

“No shit, Dick Tracy. (Though given her new career-choice, poorly-chosen words.)

“So what’s your stage name for this gig?”

She snaked a pink-wet-tongue full-circle round her lips: “Skull Candy.”

“That better mean Dream-n-Look. Not actual oral action.”

“I don’t need your emissions, Jack. Don’t tell me how to do my job.”

“Which job you talkin’, lady? This lap dance totally sucks.”

“I’m a good fucking cop, Jack. I’m going to bust Ortega—and I’ll do whatever that takes.”

“So good cops suck on weed. An God only knows what else. While drinkin’ on the job an arousin’ cocks for money. An if it helps their cause, they’ll gladly fuck your brains out…. What’s a bad cop do?”

Still clutchin’ my pilfered-hundred, Tracy bobbed-n-sucked three fingers. Then boldly jammed the bill: up ’er white G-string’s lacy crotch. Sassily she stomped off—in silver Fuck-Me pump stilettos; those familiar ass-cheeks waggin’—as if wavin’ me goodbye: after six roller-coaster-years. While f’uggly dead Ben Franklin smacked his lips against her snatch.

(The thought off a hundred Washingtons was absolutely gross.)

I slid into the VIP-booth. Knuckle-tapped waiting Tito; then nodded center-stage: “That chick, Skull Candy?”

“New dancer. What about ’er?”

“It’s obvious she ain’t wired—but that bitch is a fucking cop.”

Tito eyed Raul: Raul left the booth. His eyes never blink. Guys who work-a-blade are like that. Audios, Dick Tracy—I’m a maggot journalist. Who’s gotta protect my sources. But for the record, baby: I don’t suck at my job.